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Dick Harmon: Cash chase: BYU, U. compete to lure Whittingham

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 5:33 a.m. MDT

Utah defense coach Kyle Whittingham, shown at a U. game, says he hasn't made up his mind yet about BYU and U. offers. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News) Utah defense coach Kyle Whittingham, shown at a U. game, says he hasn't made up his mind yet about BYU and U. offers. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News)
Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham accepts a lucrative offer to be the next Ute head coach or takes an offer at BYU, he will likely tell his players of his decision first, according to observers of an intense tug-of-war for the 45-year-old coach.
Sources told the Deseret Morning News Tuesday that Whittingham will be headed for Brigham Young University. No official representative of BYU or Whittingham confirmed that late Tuesday night. In fact, as of deadline, Utah's offer to Whittingham was $1.5 million more, over the term of the contract, than the amount pitched by BYU, and BYU negotiators, according to sources, saw that as an insurmountable hurdle in hiring him.
In a crazy day that saw money thrown around and intense negotiations between Whittingham and officials at Utah and BYU, Whittingham spent the day at his Salt Lake home and missed football practice.
Whittingham did not attend Ute practice Tuesday, a session supervised by quarterback coach Dan Mullen and defensive line coach Gary Andersen. Only five of the 10 coaches were at practice.
"I won't lie," defensive back Morgan Scalley said, "I will be heartbroken if he goes somewhere else, but at the same time, I will cheer him on. We congratulate him, he's earned it. People are coming after him, and this is what he's worked for his entire life."
Several deadlines for a decision by Whittingham imposed by Utah came and went Tuesday. First it was morning, then noon, then 8 p.m., and the latest was at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
By phone, Whittingham conducted conversations with BYU representatives in New York City for LaVell Edwards' induction into the Hall of Fame. The talks included Edwards and former BYU and NFL quarterbacks Steve Young and Gifford Nielsen.
Tuesday night in New York City, BYU associate athletic director Brian Santiago said it was premature to announce any decision on a new head coach. Utah athletic director Chris Hill declined comment on his coaching search.
Whittingham said Tuesday night he had not made a decision.
Monday and Tuesday, Utah turned its job search into a miniature Florida-style hiring effort, throwing money in hopes the lure of gold would land its man.
In a paper chase that began Friday, sources say Utah's first offer to Whittingham Sunday started at $500,000, a figure that clearly outdistanced a BYU offer first put on the table Friday. Utah then pushed that to $750,000 a year for five years by Tuesday afternoon, a figure unheard of in the Rockies for a first-year unproven head coach.
In contrast, according to the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colo., Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick has a base salary of $350,000 and total package of $500,000 per year. Estimates at the Air Force Academy put Fisher DeBerry's compensation package on par with Lubick.
On Sunday, former Ute offensive coordinator Mike Sanford signed for an estimated $600,000 a year, and that figure is believed to be more than New Mexico's Rocky Long, who signed an extended contract in November with the Lobos.
There are reports that in recent weeks some BYU boosters got their own university out of whack when they gathered money for a "fantasy hire" to get back to what they believed would be BYU's good old days. This group reportedly got commitments to pay USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow to come to BYU for more than $1 million a year.
While BYU administrators did not sign on for that fantasy hire and pursued Whittingham as a prime candidate, the Ute defensive coordinator may have caught wind of that money and wondered about BYU's offer that amounted to approximately $400,000. Apparently those boosters weren't interested in Chow money for Whittingham. Monday and Tuesday, BYU officials crunched the numbers, working to find solutions that may appeal to Whittingham.
In the meantime, an independent BYU booster group, different from the Chow supporters, created a fund-raising campaign on Tuesday for a personal performance signing bonus for Whittingham if he took the BYU job. Rob Seolas, a spokesman for Friends and Supporters of Kyle Whittingham, started the fund with $40,000 and put the call out for donations. Following NCAA guidelines, Seolas' group had raised $250,000 by Tuesday afternoon.
According to BYU sources, administrators worked hard the past five days in placating Whittingham's desire for a quick decision. This included having BYU President Cecil Samuelson travel to Salt Lake City for a Saturday interview, making the location easy for the candidate.
BYU also hurried up the timetable for a mandatory meeting with an LDS apostle, asking and gaining access Monday afternoon to Elder Henry B. Eyring, who serves as church commissioner of education at church headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City.
Utah's money move appears a bold strike to prevent the school from losing a head coach and both coordinators in the course of five days.
Is Whittingham Utah's top choice?
UNLV officials told Las Vegas media Sanford had turned down the Utah job when it was offered to him last week.
At Monday's press conference, Sanford said he had discussed the Utah job, if it opened, on several occasions with Hill before he visited Las Vegas last Tuesday. When Sanford interviewed for the UNLV job a week ago, he told reporters he had "several" voice messages from Hill that day after he finished his interviews.
When Sanford told Utah officials he was taking the UNLV job on Saturday, Hill reportedly called Sanford in Boise where he was attending a family function, and tried to change his mind. The Whittingham offer came after that with formal meetings with Hill and university President Michael Young on Sunday.
The Deseret Morning News cannot corroborate reports in Las Vegas that Sanford was actually offered the Utah job by Hill before he made a bid for Whittingham.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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